UN Resident Coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien, who had triggered debates for her reported role in 1/11 episode, has disclosed that the UN did not send any “special letter” to then Bangladesh government that led to the postponement of the elections and declaration of the State of Emergency.
“International community including the UN did not interfere in any way. Our only concern was to create conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections,” she said in a pre-departure interview with UNB.
Renata, who leaves here today (Sunday) to take up her new assignment in China after more than three years of eventful tenure in Bangladesh, did not agree with former Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed’s contention that the Bangladesh army personnel would lose jobs in the UN peacekeeping mission if the army plays any role in the parliamentary polls originally slated for January 22, 2007.
“This was never discussed,” the outgoing UN senior official asserted.
Gen (retd) Moeen in his book “Shantir Swapne” (Dream for Peace) said that on January 11 he received a phone call from UN Under Secretary General for peacekeeping Guehenno who told him that the elections without participation of all political parties will not be acceptable.
“If the army plays any role in such elections, the UN will consider with due importance the withdrawal of the Bangladesh army from the UN peacekeeping missions,” Moeen quoted Guehenno as having said over phone.
Recalling the pre-election street violence, Renata said the UN Secretary General had expressed his concern on several occasions, starting at the time of street violence in October 2006 and early 2007.
Several missions of the UN electoral specialists had visited Bangladesh while the Secretary General appointed a personal envoy who visited Dhaka in December 2006. He met with the major political parties and urged them repeatedly to engage in dialogue, to be accommodative and to find a solution that both political alliances could accept.
“Telephone calls from high level UN officials to Dhaka were made to try to defuse the rising tensions so as to allow more space and time for the parties to negotiate an acceptable solution,” Renata said.
She said when the UN Secretary General and any UN staff makes any statement, the copy was sent to the respective governments ahead of the issuance of such statements to the press according to international practice.
Asked about the separate meetings of western diplomats with senior Awami League and BNP leaders at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner on January 11, 2007, Renata said the meeting with the BNP leaders was dispersed in the afternoon as the news of declaring the State of Emergency had been circulated by that time.
She said the main message of all these statements and meetings were to resolve the issue through dialogue and in non-violent fashion. “There was no interference. There was continuing urgings for accommodation” to resolve the issue to avoid violence.
Asked about the performance of the Fakhruddin’s caretaker government, Renata said “we focused on elections” but general criticisms were that the government was doing too much and it had a broad agenda.
She recalled a number of impediments like floods twice, cyclone, food crisis in the wake of price-hike of food and oil at the international market and spread of avian flu. It is difficult for a caretaker government with 10 Advisors to deal with all these problems.
“This is a complex country, many competing demands coming from different sides. Managing a country like Bangladesh, I think, is even more difficult. Each government faces challenges to implement its policies,” she said.
Asked to evaluate the present government, Renata said the Bangladeshi people would have to evaluate its performance. Energy is a big challenge while population is increasing. Each year there is bigger crisis in energy sector, she said, adding that it will take time to resolve the problem.
On the UN’s position on the trial of 1971 war criminals, she said the UN has received a request from the government to learn how war crimes tribunal operates in other country contexts.
“The UN has responded positively to this request as we consider it important to share lessons of international experience with Bangladesh authorities in order to help them to meet international standards.”
However, Renata said the UN has not been asked for any other form of assistance in connection with Bangladesh’s war crimes trials, nor has it offered additional assistance.
Asked about her farewell meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia, she said the energy and water shortages as well as other challenges like food security and disaster preparedness were discussed.
Renata stressed on strengthening democratic institutions to deepen democracy in Bangladesh. She said since parliament is one of the most important institutions in any democracy, all parties should sit in parliament and put their different agenda on the table for constructive debates.
She appreciated the formation of the parliamentary standing committees during the first session where chairs of the seven committees were given to others including two to the BNP. She also welcomed BNP’s return to parliament ending their long boycott Expressing her firm conviction about the bright prospect of Bangladesh, Renata said the country has demonstrated its remarkable capacity to overcome crises – from the War of Independence to repeated floods and cyclones, to food security and many more areas.
“I don’t minimize the very real and pressing problems that currently face the country… all that’s required is the strengthening of good governance.”
She said: “The key is already in the hands of decision makers. If their time and energy is spent in patronage pursuits, serving special interest groups or individual interests, overall social progress will be sub-optional and beset with setbacks.’